Gov. Inslee’s new regional approach to reopening in Washington state allows some businesses, like fitness centers, to reopen as of Monday in a limited way, but most other restrictions will remain for North Central Washington.
So far, there are just two phases for Inslee’s Healthy Washington plan announced Tuesday, and Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties, which are lumped together in the North Central region, will be in Phase 1 when the plan kicks in Jan. 11.
Advancing to Phase 2 will require meeting metrics the four-county region is not currently meeting.
Phase 2, unlike Phase 1, allows indoor restaurants and bars to reopen at limited capacity, as well as easing restrictions on gatherings.
To move to Phase 2, there needs to be a two-week decline in COVID-19 cases; a two-week decline in hospital admissions; a decline in hospital intensive care occupancy and a coronavirus positivity testing rate of less than 10 percent.
ICU at the hospital at maximum capacity
COVID-19 rates have been on the increase in all four counties in the North Central Region since November, though a December surge in new cases has shown some leveling off in the past two weeks.
The occupancy rate of COVID-19 patients at Central Washington Hospital has shown some decrease since its December highs, but the hospital’s intensive care unit is at “maximum capacity” this week, said Andrew Canning, public information officer for Confluence Health.
There were 29 coronavirus patients at the hospital as of Tuesday, 14 in the ICU, with all but one of those patients on a ventilator.
In mid-December the hospital had as many as 37 COVID-19 patients at one time but the number of patients in ICU never reached this level.
“We have had many non-COVID patients also requiring ICU care,” Canning said Tuesday. “The combination of COVID and non-COVID patients has kept our ICU at maximum capacity over the past 2 days. Currently, due to a shortage of additional ICU staff and beds, we have had to go on ‘ICU diversion’, meaning we may send some patients requiring ICU care to other hospitals.”
New cases rates show slow increase
In addition, though the percentage of new cases in Chelan and Douglas counties is down substantially from its December highs, the past two weeks have seen small increases, which does not meet Inslee’s standards for moving to Phase 2.
The two counties combined on Wednesday reported a rate of 693.9 new cases per 100,000 population over the past two weeks, up from 666.5 last week.
Grant County’s latest numbers, according to the state Department of Health, are at 650.2 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks.
As of Tuesday, Okanogan County was at 479.8 new cases per 100,000 population over the past 14 days.
Unlike Inslee’s previous four-phase reopening plan, counties that have met Phase 2 metrics can automatically be moved back to Phase 1 if they don’t continue to meet at least two of the metrics.
But there is language in Inslee’s order that could change how counties reopen, especially when the COVID-19 vaccines become widely available.
“DOH and local health departments reserve the right to move a region outside of this timing, and additional phases may be added as the state’s COVID-19 situation changes with continued vaccine distribution and other changes in public health response,” the Health Washington plan reads.
Gym owner says it’s a win for his business but a loss for restaurants, bowling alleys and theaters
But Inslee’s new plan came as welcome news to Blair McHaney, owner of Worx gyms in the Wenatchee Valley.
McHaney said he plans to reopen his facilities Monday, following the restrictions outlined in Inslee’s plan
Speaking as president of the Washington Fitness Alliance, McHaney said in a video Tuesday that “the big win here is that fitness can reopen in Phase 1.”
“The biggest disappointment that I personally have in this is that restaurants, bowling alleys and theaters were largely left out in Phase 1,” McHaney said. “I think they all can control and operate safely. … Businesses should not be left behind, and small businesses especially should not be left behind.”